Friday, January 29, 2010

The famous get delivered at Cleves

If He’s Healthy, He must Produce Evidence that he was Moribund

The famous get delivered at Cleves
Not many divorce cases have earned a special name or deserved to be assiduously detailed in halachic literature. One outstanding case, though, was that of Yitzchak Neierburg and Leah Guntzheusen of Germany, who were divorced very soon after their marriage about 200 years ago, on 8 Elul 5526. The couple wed in Mannheim but the bill of divorce was delivered in Cleves and has been since known as “the Cleve get.”

A divorce enacted at the Dutch border
Immediately after the wedding, the young husband became very introverted and sometimes murmured incomprehensible statements. One the Shabbos of the sheva berachos week, he took the dowry of 94 gold karolen and absconded to a neighboring village and, when discovered, explained that he had to desecrate the Shabbos and flee because “all his limbs trembled and a deathly fear had befallen him.” For some reason, the bride’s family did not yet demand a get. After the next Shabbos, Neierburg was in Bonn where he summoned his wife’s relative, Rabbi Shimon Copenhagen, and told him he was in great danger and had to leave the country immediately. There was no beis din in Bonn, so the wife’s family continued to Cleves, on the Dutch border, as Neierburg intended to flee to England via Holland. HaGaon Rav Yisrael Lifschitz, the rabbi of Cleves and the grandfather of the author of Tiferes Yisrael on the Mishnah, arranged the divorce once the husband insisted that he would be condemned to death unless he fled to England. The couple’s financial matters were then settled and Leah returned home.

The dispute that engulfed the halachic community
On hearing the news, Neierburg’s father became incensed, especially about the financial settlement which he deemed unfavorable to his son. He appealed to the rabbis of Mannheim and Frankfurt-am-Main to disqualify the get, claiming his son was insane and therefore halachically unable to divorce. The rabbis of Frankfurt and Mannheim soon issued a long and elaborately explained decision disqualifying the get and consequently defining Leah as still married. Her family appealed to other leading rabbinical authorities and the stormy discussion echoed throughout the halachic community to the point where every prominent expert voiced his opinion. The replies of some poskim were even publicized, including those of HaGaon Rav Yechezkel Landa, author of Noda’ BiYehudah; HaGaon Rav Aryeh Leib of Metz, the Shaagas Aryeh; HaGaon Rav David, av beis din of Dessau, known for his Korban Ha’Eidah; Rabbi Shlomo Chelma, famous for his Mirkeves HaMishneh on Rambam; Rabbi Elchanan Ashkenazi (Sidrei Tohorah); Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi of Hamburg; HaGaon Rav Yaakov Emdin; and Rabbi Shaul of Amsterdam.

Why the Frankfurt community was hard put to hire a rav
So many rabbis expressed their opinions that several years later, when the Frankfurt congregation was seeking to appoint a new chief rabbi, the leaders of the community were only willing to consider one who did not disagree with his predecessors and they only found three candidates. The Frankfurt rabbis were the sole ones to still insist that Neierburg had been insane, whereas all the others allowed Leah to remarry. We shall now devote some study to the thought-provoking reply of the author of Shaagas Aryeh, publicized in Responsa Or HaYashar and at the end of his major work (Shaagas Aryeh, addition to #2).

In our sugya Rabbi Nassan states that one who had been moribund but recuperated may renege on the gifts that he distributed on his deathbed, as he was then sure that he was in his last moments and would have no further need for his property. What, though, is the halachah if we are unsure of the state of the person’s health when he distributed the gifts? The Gemora says that we must examine his condition right now. If he’s healthy now, we should assume he was so then but if he’s presently infirm, we assume he was the same then unless one of the sides proves otherwise.

Back to the get at Cleves, then, it had to be ascertained if Neierburg was sane or insane when he gave Leah her get, and, according to our sugya, we should consider his current condition. The Shaagas Aryeh wrote that he detained Neierburg at Metz for three days on his way to London and found him sane, and consequently, in his opinion, the get was valid. (The Shaagas Aryeh included many ideas, profound pilpul and halachic principles that we cannot fully explain here due both to lack of space and their profundity; we have touched on only one of his ideas, related to our sugya, without citing all his supportive proof leading to his final decision). Some record that Neierburg returned to Germany and remarried Leah but others deny the fact.


Is He Alive?
In what type of scenarios do we remain with the assumption that a missing person is still alive? Which circumstance must occur before we assume that a missing person may have died?

The Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’ezer 141:69) distinguishes between various settings. In cases where the city was;
a) surrounded by an army from the nearby government;
b) a ship floundering at sea;
c) a person that is on his way to be tried in a case where convicted carries the death penalty;
In all these cases, the person in question is considered to have remained alive.

Conversely, in cases where;
a) the city was captured;
b) surrounded by an invading army;
c) a ship that is lost at sea;
d) a convict that is on his way to be executed by non-Jews;
e) when a person was dragged away by a wild animal;
f) a river swept him away;
g) a house collapsed on him;
In all these instances, we cannot safely assume that he assuredly remained alive; therefore we give him the status of both a living and dead person.

This would have strict implications:
a) His wife cannot remarry - for he might be alive.
b) Even if a get was given to an agent to give to his wife, he may not do so - for he might be dead (since one cannot divorce his wife after he is dead). If the agent did give her the get, she would have the status as a safek migureshes.
c) If the missing person is a Kohen, his wife cannot eat terumah - for he might be dead.
d) If the missing person is a Yisroel, but his wife is a daughter of a Kohen, she cannot eat terumah - for he might be alive.